On Friday, March 14th, 1941, a worker at the C.F. Martin factory stamped the number, "77299," on the neck block of a D-28 ordered by Grinnell Brothers Music House in Detroit, Michigan. As we admire this magnificent instrument on a Friday morning, 30,100 days after it received its number, we can't help but ruminate on the bygone era in which it was produced; and we're extremely proud to be a small part of its story, as we shepherd it forward to its next steward. This guitar exemplifies everything we value in our day-to-day business: excellence of craftsmanship, pride of ownership, and unflinching dedication to presenting the work of those we admire in an elegant fashion. There were no "Friday guitars" made at C.F. Martin in the pre-war era; and we like to think that whoever applied number 77299 to this one would be happy to see that it's still being cherished all these years later.
Similarly, we think Roy Fleeger would be proud to know that we've been marveling over his most prized possession, and showing it off with pride to the Martin aficionados who've stopped by recently. Mr. Fleeger, born Sylvester Leroy Fleeger, was 21 years old when he walked into Grinnell Brothers and purchased 77299 for his bride-to-be, MaryAnn, in lieu of an engagement ring. Roy and MaryAnn performed as a duo, and had even begun appearing on the radio. MaryAnn was the star vocalist and rhythm guitar player; and if music was to be their path forward, she needed a top-of-the-line instrument. But soon enough, life, children, and the hard work of raising a family got in the way of the couple's dreams, and MaryAnn retired from performing to make a home for the growing Fleeger brood.
Roy, however, soldiered on and put 77299 to good use fronting his own bands, "The Foggy Mountain Boys," and "The Blue Sky Rangers." We can't be sure exactly who used the 'Foggy Mountain Boy' moniker first (Mr. Fleeger or Misters Flatt & Scruggs); but it was only seven years after the sale of 77299 that Lester & Earl put out their shingle. And given the inclusion of 'Blue Sky' in the name of Roy's other project, it does seem he had a penchant for borrowing phrases a bit in the name of marketing. But we can't begrudge him for doing what he thought was necessary in the name of keeping his bandmates and family fed. And that feeling of desperately clinging to one's musical ambitions as life gets in the way is certainly one to which most of us in the guitar niche can relate.
So it comes as no great surprise that 77299 remains in near-perfect condition a few months after its 82nd birthday. Remember that this guitar was essentially one woman's wedding ring; and her family treated it as such. Even though Roy Fleeger continued performing with it for many years, putting a little wear on the top between the bridge and the pickguard, this instrument is the definition of an heirloom. It was neatly wiped down and kept in its case when not in use, and passed down to Roy and MaryAnn's children when they could no longer play it. Its surroundings and environment must have been excellently maintained, as its original finish remains gleaming and mostly un-checked. There are no cracks. And aside from the aforementioned playwear on the soundboard, the only other significant sign of use is a small spot of worn finish on the back of the neck, where hundreds of hours of first-position chords have been logged. When our consigning owner acquired 77299 from an intermediary representing Roy and MaryAnn's son in 2009, no work had ever been done to it. Luthier Ken Fallon performed a neck reset, and installed new frets and a new bridge at that time. The setup remains unaltered since then, and needs no adjustment. The guitar's action measures perfectly, at 3/32" (bass side) and 2/32" (treble side) under tension of medium gauge strings. 77299's structure is otherwise completely original. It is still housed in its original hardshell case.
Ironically, we hesitate to discuss sound with a guitar like this one. What can we say that you haven't heard before? Suffice it to say ~ this is a best of all worlds scenario for guitar lovers. The instrument has been played hard for decades; and it's also been meticulously preserved. Its only service appointment was under the supervision of an expert. And its lineage is the stuff of a guitar worthy of a display in the Martin museum. We cannot think of a more perfect-sounding herringbone D-28 that this one, with its inimitable combination of kick-drum-sized bass, thick, bluegrass-ready mids, and bright-but-never-harsh trebles all working in perfect harmony. This guitar is more than its heralded, storybook voice ~ it's a piece of one family's musical history. And we're proud to have made it part of ours as well.
Roy and MaryAnn Fleeger were married for 76 years at the time of her passing in 2018. She was 94. Roy lived to be 100 years old, and passed away in 2020. How marvelous is it to think that guitars like 77299, as well-cared-for as it was by the Fleegers, are bound to outlive us all?